When I was in college, I spent one Christmas break working in the sub-basement of the Macy's in New York's Herald Square packing hard goods (that means anything but clothing, the workers were segregated by gender, to minimize the hanky panky). It was a strictly regimented environment, where we punched in and out to use our allotted restroom break. The environment was late 1970s hip hop; by the end of December, I too had memorized the lyrics to "Rapper's Delight" from the Sugar Hill Gang.
It was a number of years later that I first heard "The Santaland Diaries" on NPR, and thought back to that strange subculture. And when I first read Barrel Fever, I was almost breathless, as was much of the rest of this country. Who is this man who holds a mirror to us, not only blinding us, but making us laugh through the pain?
The new collection, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, is a mix of personal essays that mix with autobiographical with the humorous. In "I Break for Traditional Marriage", Randolph Denny explains why New York State's decision to allow gay men and lesbians to marry rendered their marriage meaningless, and what the craziness that that led to. "Just a Quick Email" is a note to Robin thanking her for the free pizza certificate that she got for her wedding.
But those pieces are palate cleansers. The meat of the new collection are the personal essays of course, some that reflect on Sedaris's childhood when his father forced him to take part on the country club's swim team, or when he decided to date a poor, heavyset, and rather slow African American female classmate ("Memory Laps" and "A Friend in the Ghetto") for what turned out to be fairly complicated reasons. Other essays cover both the early struggling adult years in Raleigh, New York, and Chicago ("Standing Still") and his current life in West Sussex with Hugh.
The thing that's wonderful about David Sedaris is that we as readers can find them both outrageously different from our own situations and surprisingly identifiable. Perhaps you also didn't have an African American girlfriend at a very young age (I did. Her name was Patricia, but unlike David's friend Delicia, I thought she was smart and beautiful and was a bit taller than me) or get forced to compete on a swim team (my father pushed me into all sorts of athletics against my will, but he was about as different as a father could be from Lou, against competition at all costs) but I think everyone sort of sees their own craziness in the Sedaris world.
And while I don't live in an English cottage, I have had the dubious distinction of being known in my neighborhood as the person who picks up the litter. In fact, I got to know Mike, who once owned Bella's Fat Cat and now sells retail credit card services for Swipeworks (I am plugging him here) because he caught me outside his store picking up garbage while waiting for the bus. "Who wouldn't do this?" I thought. Well, it turns out that I have found a correlation between people who smoke tutti-frutti cigars and littering, because there cannot be so many people smoking grape-and-banana-flavored cigars, can there? If there is, it's a much bigger industry than previously acknowledged. Listen to Mr. Sedaris talk about his similar role in West Sussex with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. If you haven't heard this interview yet, you absolutley must. Gross replayed an interview with Sedaris and asked him why exactly he had to write at night and he replied "because that's when I drank, of course." I'm slightly paraphrasing, but just slightly.
So maybe you aren't picking up litter (though you should be). But you probably have your own weird bond with Sedaris. Perhaps you also obsessively learn a language before traveling there (like my friend Mark) or perhaps you have an aversion to trough bathrooms in places like China (like all my friends aside from Mark). But there's something that connects you, right? If it was just all craziness, his fans would simply have a different kind of bond.
One thing Sedaris notes in Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls is that (and I'm sure he's said this before, but I can't remember it in the five or so Sedaris books that I've read) is that he's been obsessively journaling since he was twenty. This explains how he can still be telling childhood stories in volume eight.
David Sedaris now tours theaters, including regularly scheduled appearances for the Pabst/Riverside folks. It's said he'll have a date there in early November. But he likes his bookstore events as well, and still tours the country for each release. Due to his speaking contract, the events must be at the bookstore itself--no library or theater visits for this. He also likes a free event, and while we probably could have ticketed, there's nothing like a free, open-to-the-public program. That's what our friend Marlena thought he'd like best, and that's what we'd like to do.
Sedaris is coming to Boswell for Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls on Sunday, May 26, 2 pm. We'll have pretty strict guidelines for attendance, ones that seem fair for the most number of people. There are no advance tickets, but we will be giving out line letters starting at 10 am on Sunday. We are not requiring you to buy the book from us, but don't forget that our sales determine if Sedaris and other authors will come back again for an intimate bookstore event. Just saying.
The big thing to note here is that there are no "holdsies." If we close the doors when we hit capacity and you have left the store to eat lunch, you will not be able to come back in if we've hit capacity. So come when you're ready to stay for the show, not to reserve seats for later. And I should also note that there are no photos or video allowed at this event.
That said, Mr. Sedaris will make sure he signs every book, even folks who did not make it into the store for the presentation. We'll have a line waiting outside and we'll stay as long as it takes. What I said to Jason was, "Please schedule someone with me to stay until forever." Thanks, Jason!
So mark your calendar, come early, and let's all have a great time. See you then (unless you don't like craziness, and then you should wait for the theater tickets to go on sale).
Around the Shop, On the Shelf 3/27/15
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